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Through the Looking Glass
Another appearance on Andrew Marr saw the First Minister arguing against higher public spending for Scotland.
I’m not terribly interested in following the SNP down the rabbit hole where they performatively pretend to want a referendum they aren’t ready for.
There is a minority in Scotland so addicted to grievance that they are angry that the UK government has’t agreed to a referendum 24 hours after an election result where the Scottish Government told us every day it wasn’t an urgent priority. Most of us expect the First Minister to do the day after the election results what she promised she would do the day before the election: to focus on the recovery.
I’ve already set out how I think opponents of Scexit should frame their arguments and won’t repeat it here. I was pleasantly surprised though to see the UK Government, which ordinarily goes out of its way to be the opponent the SNP wants, taking a smarter line than a blanket no to another referendum. Michael Gove here using a version of the “not never but not now” message that reflects where Scottish opinion is:
As predicted, the SNP are using all those votes won by reassuring voters that leaving the UK wasn’t their immediate priority, to immediately demand a referendum. The first half of Nicola Sturgeon’s interview on Marr saw her being served up the opportunity to make the argument she wants to have: “Scotland’s right to choose.” The second half of the interview showed that she cannot escape the precursor question of what exactly are we being asked to choose?
Andrew Marr does what I wrote about a few issues ago: using Nicola Sturgeon’s own test of comparing how much we pay into the UK to how much we get back.
Andrew Marr: “Scotland receives £1671 or 17% more per person than the UK average and at the same time its tax revenues are £308 lower per person that means a fiscal transfer that would stop with independence and I ask again: is that a price worth paying?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “If you are pointing to the position that Scotland has right now, the fiscal position of Scotland right now, that is a feature of Westminster government decisions around macro economic policy and fiscal decisions, it’s not a reflection of independence, so if anyone is saying…”
Andrew Marr: “It’s a net move of money though isn’t it?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “Why should a country like Scotland with all of the attributes and assets, and skills and natural and people resources that Scotland has, be in a position of requiring to be, to use the pejorative language, subsidised? So if that is the position Scotland is in right now, that would suggest that there is something about how we are governed that is not working properly. It’s not an argument for staying the same, it’s an argument for change”
Sturgeon goes on to say that we wouldn’t be poorer, we’d just have to manage our finances. Having less money to spend on public services makes us poorer. Unless you are defining rich and poor without regards to money, that’s surely uncontrovesial? Maybe the First Minister is taking a ‘someone with friends is never really poor’ sort of zen-approach, but for the rest of us we would be poorer in a very real sense.
I’ve written about why I think ‘subsidy’ is the wrong word and the wrong political frame. The idea that we don’t pay our way encourages an irrational nationalistic reaction to what should be a rational economic decision for voters. However, it is revealing that the SNP leader does not dispute the proposition, rather she is arguing that the higher public spending is a bad thing.
She argues that the spending decisions we’d be making would be ‘our’ spending decisions, as if austerity somehow becomes virtuous when it is announced in a Scottish accent.
It’s really important to pause here and internalise what is happening with Nicola Sturgeon’s argument here. While in Scotland we pay less per head in taxes than the UK average, the main source of the deficit is that we get far higher spending. To argue that this deficit is a problem that has to be fixed then is to argue that higher public spending is a problem that needs fixed.
The politician who has built a movement for exiting the UK on the basis of opposition to austerity is now basing the case for independence on cutting public spending. We are through the looking glass.
Marr recognises that she isn’t disputing the scale of austerity that she would create:
Andrew Marr: “In this limited regard, as it were, you accept the numbers?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “If you’re quoting GERS, these are government figures, I’m not denying the validity of them. They’re based on a range of assumptions that around the margins you could argue around.
This is progress of a sort. After years of encouraging the conspiracy theories around GERS, the First Minister isn’t denying the size of the problem.
Losing the fiscal transfer Andrew Marr describes leaves us losing our share of the money shared around the regions and nations of the UK - around £10billion every year. And remember, her currency policy of Sterlingisaton and then establishing a currency means we would have to run a surplus (raise more than we spend). Having to run a surplus makes that hole even bigger, meaning we would have to find something upwards of £15 billion in cuts or tax rises. That is equivalent to the budget of every NHS health board in Scotland.
The SNP leader has a go at explaining how we would fill the gap.
Nicola Sturgeon: But we could take our own spending decisions. You know, in there [the deficit] is the money that is spent on things like the House of Lords, Trident, all those things I don’t think an independent Scotland would choose to spend money on.”
Our share of the costs of the House of Lords (which is clearly far too large) is £0.01 billion. Our share of trident costs is £0.2 billion. Those of you lucky enough to be educated before the SNP took control of our schools will have done the maths and worked out already that the First Minister is offering £0.21billion of savings to fill a £15 billion hole.
She is simply not taking the funding of our NHS and other public services seriously, and until she does, no responsible government, parliament or opposition should support a referendum on a proposition that would turn away our share of UK funding at the border.
Rather than following the nationalists down a rabbit hole on the timing of a referendum that isn’t coming any time soon, supporters of remaining in the UK should spend their time defending the NHS and public services from the SNP’s plan to gut them of funding.